China Expat Beginner’s Guide – Meeting other expats

So, you’ve adapted to your new environment, and had finally realized that you and chinese people can be a good friends, but you will never understand each other for one hundred percent. What happens next?

The law of attraction.

Meeting the other expats
The next thing that begins to happen – you start to meet other laowais like you. The law of universe states:  “Things of the same kind attract each other”. And this law works perfectly in China too. We were told that in Xi’an there are 10,000 foreigners. Given the fact that there are 8,000,000 people in Xi’an, your chance to meet a foreigner is still pretty low: only 0.00125. But it seems to be much higher if you are a foreigner by yourself.  To continue with numbers, in our one year of or stay in Xi’an we’ve met more than 20 different foreigners in about 10 different places of this vast megapolis.

So what are our fellows-expats do in China? All of them are coming from different reasons and pursue the different goals.

We will not list their names here, because we didn’t get their agreement for this, but each one of them a represents a specific kind of the expat in China.

The kinds of expats in China

Meeting the other expats

Culture fans


Curious, active, interesting converser, they are interested in future contact with us.


These people are in China because of its rich culture. They are fascinated with everything about it: language, traditional chinese medicine, martial arts, music, etc.

Only one of the guys that we’ve met here, can fit into this category. Also we include ourselves here, if you don’t mind.

We’ve came to China, to learn more about its ancient culture, or what has left from it after Cultural Revolution. And there’s a lot to learn. Now we are concentrating on martial arts and learn them in Zhao Changjung wushu academy in Xi’an.


I'm not a tourist I live here

I’m not a tourist I live here



They are always in hurry; they are not interested in long conversation; they are not interested in future contact.


These laowais are here because they like to travel, and they are using ESL teaching only to earn some money on the way.  They are not very interested in chinese culture or any other culture. Their only passion is to see and taste as much of the world as they can. They will stay in China for half a year and then they will move on. But they are still expats for this time.



Young, enthusiastic, curios, good level of Chinese, interested in short conversation, polite, ready to help, not interested in future contact.


We’ve met many young people coming from past soviet republics, which have a common border with China. Their purpose is simple: they came to learn in local universities. Maybe because it is cheaper or maybe local universities are better than the ones at their home countries. In Xi’an there are more than 100 universities, and they attract more and more foreign students each year. Good sign is that we’ve met them on jiu-jitsu lessons. And it means they are curious about other cultures too.

The lost laowai

The lost laowai.


They are lonely, they know Chinese very well, 10+ years in China; they are interested in conversation, but only to show their experience in life in China.


We call them lost, because this is how they are. They’ve lost their mother land (USA, Canada), and miss it only occasionally. But China will never become a new home for them, and they will always be the foreigners here. This is not bed or good thing. They just make an impression of people hanging in the air.

There is even an internet site with this name

What do they do in China? One of the guys we’ve met is a senior teacher in private English school and is married to chinese woman. The second guy is a recruiting manager in ESL agency, he helps to hire and guide new ESL teachers arriving from different countries. And the third one is a young woman from USA, she has the private English school of her own, and as we suspect, a rich chinese mentor to support it.

The runaways.


Mostly in middle age, good converser, interested in future contact, cannot hide their feeling of freedom and relief.


We’ve found out that there is a special term for this kind of expats : “mid-life runaways”.

We can freely fit into this category too. We’ve met one couple from United Kingdom, who like us became bored with mundane life of western society. Tired from same everyday hard work, and just need a refreshing experience in their life. So, exactly like us, they’ve packed all their stuff in one small

storage room with little locker, and flew to China to live and to teach English for one year. We are ready to bet on that they will stay in China much longer.

Attention seeker


Strange, lonely, not a good converser, has no interest in future contact, likes attention and likes being treated as VIP.


Recently we’ve met one guy from small provincial town in USA, who is living in China for 2 years. When we asked him, why he chose China, he said: “Well, you know, there’s not much going on in the USA”.  This kind of people had no success and didn’t see any chance of success in their home country. From this reason they’ve come to seek some action and attention in China. For them China now is the Land Of Opportunities. He gladly told us a story, where he was a VIP on some event in China, where he was the only laowai. Being a foreigner in China, automatically makes him fill more important, because in many places in China meeting a foreigner is a still very rare occasion.

Expat emperors of China - Everyone likes to feel important sometimes

Expat emperors of China – Everyone likes to feel important sometimes

We have to admit, that for us too, it is very easy to fall into this attention trap. In our home country, we are just regular human beings, and nobody cares too much about our existence. Here in China we often feel special, because of all the attention we suddenly get. Well, who doesn’t like to feel special at least sometimes?

The World Citizen

(in response to comments)

Curious, active, interesting converser, they are interested in future contact with us, blogging a lot, likes to share any information,that can help others to travelers.

The passport of the World Citizen

The passport of the World Citizen


The world citizen is not lost and is not fan of particular culture.
He just enjoys to live anywhere in the World, without being pinned to specific place or citizenship.
He still has a passport (preferably american), but it is just a piece of paper for him which allows to cross “borders”, that other people invented. We regard ourselves as world citizens, or at least, this is who we would like to be.
In China we’ve never meet this kind of expat, but we are in touch with several bloggers, who can be called the World Citizen.

There of course can be much more types of expats. And you are more than welcome to share your observations with us. We’ve written here only about types of expats, that are obvious to us, and that we have met personally. Not every person that we’ve meet, can fit into only one category. Again, we are a good example for this. We are culture fans, runaways and attention seekers.

And if you are an expat, in what category would you place yourself?

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS
PDF24    Send article as PDF   


Trackback URL for this post:

10 Responses to China Expat Beginner’s Guide – Meeting other expats

  1. Uhhh, OK. nice try. File me under “other”.

    • Hi Kalan!

      We will add the category “Other” for expats like you.
      Would you mind to tell us more about yourself, what makes you different from
      all the categories that we’ve listed?

      Thank you.

      Gadi & Tun

      • Well, perhaps I’m not “other”, but “all of the above”… It’s hard to pigeon-hole people.

        I like attention, who doesn’t, though I don’t feel I get more attention here than anywhere else I’ve lived.

        Although I am around the mid-life part of my existence, I was in China years ago and returned after 8 years in other countries. Even in my home country, I was on the move from 17 years old. Perhaps I am a run-away, but it has nothing to do with mid-life.

        I’m not lost either, not been here long enough for that. Also, I’m not sure is really a place for new old China hands as you seem to be implying in your article.

        I am a tourist at times, but usually in places like Korea and Japan. I’ve spent more time travelling in Japan over the past 3 years than in China.

        As far as culture goes, though I do find it interesting and easier than many believe to adapt to, I don’t think I could be characterized as a “fan”, more of a heckler I suspect.

        I’ve tried to answer the question of why I’m in China, why I stay etc., twice! Not sure if I did a good job or not, but here are the articles.

        “I love China… why?”

        “China: I may never leave…”

        • Hi Kalan!

          We think you are the “world citizen” then.
          We are going to add this category to the list.
          The world citizen is not lost and is not fan of particular culture.
          He just enjoys to live anywhere in the World, without being pinned to specific place or
          citizenship. He still has a passport (preferably american), but it is just a piece of paper
          for him which allows to cross “borders”, that other people invented.

          Thank you

          Gadi & Tun

  2. Hmm. I don’t really fit into any of those. I’d be a mixture of Culture and Other. I have zero desire to go back to the U.S., have been out since January of 2008, love the culture where I’m at, speak the language, am engaged to a local, have semi-permanent plans for a base of operations for the company here…but I’m certainly not “lost” despite the fact that I have zero desire to go back to my “homeland”.

    The reality is that Earth is my home, not some falsely-defined plot of land dictated by a government who draws imaginary lines on a map to try and tell me where I am supposed to call “home”.

    I go where I want, when I want. Everyone is my brother and sister…I’m a permanent traveler/immersion traveler/full-time expat.

    • Hi T.W. Anderson.
      Thanks for your good comment.
      We will definitely add one more category and will call it the “World Citizen”.

      We also regard ourselves as world citizens and trying not to cling to any culture or place.
      There are some places though, that we would like to visit again and again.

      Thank you

      Gadi & Tun

  3. Wow. We’re a little of all. Definitely we are relieved middle-agers – or would be if we live to be over 100! We try not to fall into the hectic tourist category. But sometimes it’s hard at the big attractions like The Great Wall or the Forbidden City. Avoiding getting caught up in the crowds is almost impossible! ;)

    • Hi GypsyNesters!
      Thanks for your comment.
      You have a great blog and we will follow after your journey.
      You are definitely not run-aways and there’s nothing bad in being tourists sometimes :)

      Gadi & Tun

  4. Really enjoyed this post, even though I’ve not been to China. I used to live in Korea and I’m pretty sure there’s similar breeds of expats… maybe a few differences. ;-) Thanks for sharing and the chuckle.

    • Hi, Christine,
      thank you for your comment.
      We are glad that you liked our expat guide.
      Stay tuned for the next coming chapters ;)
      We also have a feeling that expat types are similar in every
      part of the world.

      Gadi & Tun

Leave a Reply to Gadi and Tun Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Web Statistics